With the tech boom crash, Ashburn resident William "Bill" Johnson found himself without a job in 2001, became a stay-at-home Dad for the next few months and wrote letters to his sons wrapped around stories he collected since he was in college.
The result was the publication of "From the Heart of the Father" two years later.
"The stories and letters that follow are meant to inspire you and leave you with lasting memories of the joy I have in being your Dad," Johnson, who is 38, wrote in the introduction. He connected his own fathering experiences to 25 fictional inspirational stories and gave the book a religious overtone. "I want them to know it’s been a real joy to be your father," he said.
After Johnson was laid off from a Northern Virginia Internet company, he looked for another job. In the meantime, his wife of 16 years, Sara Johnson, returned to work, at first part-time then full-time at English Manor Gardens & Interiors in Leesburg. By April 2002, the Johnsons decided that William would become a full-time, stay-at-home Dad.
"It was me and the boys," Johnson said, adding that he took his sons on inexpensive excursions to the park, to get ice cream and to spend time together. He realized that time is a gift that is finite and limited. "Too often we take things for granted. … I don’t want to regret lost time with my family."
"Bill’s always been close to our children and so glad to be a Dad," Sara said. "I hope people take a few extra minutes to be with their kids. Our lives are busy, but it’s an important thing to do. … He always spent a lot of time with our boys. He realized they grow up so fast, and you have to spend a lot of time with them while you can."
JOHNSON IS ONE of the dads who likes to play baseball and kick ball with his and the neighbor’s children, Sara Johnson said. The Johnsons are known as the wagon family, since Johnson takes his sons out for rides in a red wagon or uses it as a mode of transportation for their excursions.
But the Johnsons do not want to give the idea that they have a perfect house and family. "I yell. I get irritated," Johnson said, adding that bottom line, he wants his three sons, Christopher, 9, Michael, 5, and Andrew, 3, to know he loves them, that they are part of a family and they have a place to call home. He dedicated the book to Sara and their sons and to his parents. "Through the years when you thought I wasn’t looking, I was looking. Thanks for being good examples and instilling lifelong values in me," he said in the dedication. As for his own children, he said, "These are things I wanted them to know. … It really is messages from the heart. This is what you meant to me."
The Johnsons' family friend Wanda Crossley cannot "say enough about Bill as being a family man and a father. I think Sara is very lucky and his kids are very lucky," said the Leesburg resident and owner of English Manor Gardens & Interiors, where Sara Johnson now works part-time. "The fact he's written all of these little notes and little poems to his kids over the years, not thinking of the opportunity to do a book, just goes to show what a pretty cool person he is. He's a good role model."
Johnson's oldest son also read the book. "I liked it because my Dad took the time to write it, and he put good stories in it, and he dedicated it to us," Christopher said. "Yeah, my Dad loves me because he shows me and tells me and hugs me at night."
"Bill's a great Dad and that shows in the pages of his book," said Donna McDonald of Ashburn, a member of the same church that the Johnsons attend.
Johnson drew off the family savings while he could but knew he had to return to work. In February 2003, he became senior project manager at Handy Soft in Vienna, a family values company, he said. He has worked in the computer industry in project and program management for a total of 17 years. Since the book’s publication, he has been doing public speaking on his book for organizations in Virginia and Maryland and plans to speak in Ohio. He grew up in Lorain, Ohio and is a graduate of Bowling Green State University. He has lived in Northern Virginia for 17 years.